Discipleship (Mark 1:17-20)

Mark 1:17-20

The gospel of Mark is a gospel about discipleship. It is through this book that one can learn what it means to be a disciple of Christ. From Mark 1:17-20 there is three elements we can learn from the text about discipleship.

The first element we can learn from the text is discipleship is not a choice. It is not a choice we make to follow Jesus. It is a calling. In other words, Jesus takes the initiative in making disciples. Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John. He didn’t call Zebedee and the hire servants. There is nothing we can do to be a disciple of Christ. God initiate the call.

Jesus says, “follow me,” literal in the Greek is “come after me.” In other words, the object of the call to discipleship is the person of Christ. Once a person accepts the call, the call to discipleship carries with it a demand of full commitment to Him. It is belonging exclusively to Him. Once a person accepts the call to discipleship there is no going back. It carries with it a readiness for the full surrendering of oneself to the Lord. Are you a disciple of Christ, if so are you willing to surrender all to follow Jesus?

The second element we can learn from this passage is discipleship involves a response and a sacrifice. When Jesus gave the call, the response of Simon, Andrew, James, and John was ‘immediately.’ Mark is trying to emphasize the importance of a quick response to Jesus’ call to discipleship. In other words, one must drop everything because entering the kingdom is more important than even life itself. When Jesus calls a person to follow after him the response should be immediately because eternal life supersedes all.

When a call to discipleship is given, people are to response immediately, yet there is an element of sacrifices. Discipleship involves sacrifices. Simon and Andrew left their livelihood. James and John left their business and their family to follow Jesus. To put it another way, Simon and Andrew left their possession (left their nets), and James and John left their possessions (nets and boats) and their family (father). The response to discipleship involves leaving anything that might come between the believer and God. Discipleship means leaving behind a way of life and former ties. The call to discipleship is a call to absolute obedience and surrender.

The third element we can learn from this text is the purpose of discipleship is to be fishers of men. Jesus says, “I will make you become fishers of men.” The idea here is there is an initial call to follow after Jesus and only after a period of preparation will a disciple become fishers of men. In other words, if you’re a disciple of Christ, you will become a fisher of men sometime in the future, after an initial stage of preparation. Christ will work in you, change you, and grow you so that you will perform through the Holy Spirit, the ministry of being “fishers of men.”

There is something amazing about this passage in the Greek language that I want to point out. In the Greek language the infinitive “become” is in the middle voice. The middle voice in Greek is the subject participates in the action of the verb or infinitive so that the result would affect the subject. In this case the subject is Jesus. Jesus participates in the action of making the disciples “fishers of men.” What does all this mean? We have no part in the call to discipleship. Jesus initiates the call to discipleship, but in becoming a fisher of men we play a role. God works with us to form us to be a fisher of men.

The imagery of being a fisher of men is not a lure and a line waiting for a fish to strike. This is alien to the text. The imagery of fishers of men involved says one commentator, “persistence and dedication to the task (often in spite of minimal results), snatching people from judgment, and strenuousness of evangelism.” In other words the purpose of the call is to save people from the coming judgment. It is to evangelize to non-believers in order for them to escape judgment when Christ returns. It will require long hours, dedication to the task, and sometime it is done with little results. Being a fisher of men is not an easy task, but that is the task we are called to. Are we fulfilling that purpose in our lives as disciple of Christ? We say we are disciples of Christ, are we performing the work of a disciple of Christ?

A disciple is a person who is fully committed and willing to surrender all to follow Christ. Once we accept the call, God will prepare us to become fishers of men. Are you a fisher of men?

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Assurance in God’s Faithfulness

Hebrews 10:23

Last Sunday, our Sunday school topic brought us to the topic of assurance of salvation. Assurance (along with predestination) seems to be a perennial favorite when it comes to hot topics for debates within evangelical circles. Is it possible to lose your salvation? Once saved always saved?

In the following post, I won’t be offering my own position about whether one can lose salvation. Instead, I’ll offer some reflections that developed out of our Sunday school, which will hopefully encourage us to think about the topic of assurance from a different angle.

There seems to be two ways of framing the question of assurance. One may ask, “Am I really saved? How do I really know? Was my conversion genuine?” On the other hand, one may ask, “What does God promise when it comes to salvation? How is God going to be faithful to his promise to save his people? How do we know that He is going to be faithful?”

Notice that the first way of framing the question is focused on the self and his/her individual state, whereas the second way of framing the question puts the focus on God and His work. When it comes to assurance and our day to day conversations with each other, it seems to me that we have become preoccupied with the first way of thinking about assurance at the expense of the second (and, I think, more biblical) way of thinking about it.

Consider the narrative arc of the Bible. God makes a promise to Abraham that He will bless all the nations through his seed. Thus, the nation of Israel is born, as God calls his “son” out of Egypt (who does that sound like?) and brings the Israelites to the Promised Land. Sadly, after the golden age of David, Israel falls into sin and is eventually forced into exile. At this point, the nation of Israel is effectively gone; it seems that God’s promise to bless all people through Abraham’s descendants has been made void. For an Israelite, the question is, “Where is God? How is He going to be faithful to His promises?”

The good news of the Gospel is that God has proven Himself faithful by sending His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the faithful and obedient son to the point of death, even death on a cross. And it is through Christ that the blessing of salvation finally passes to all the nations. He has conquered sin and death, and we know that if we have died with Him, then we will also be raised with Him. He is the one in whom God’s promises have been fulfilled.

So when it comes to the issue of assurance of personal salvation, the main way that the Bible encourages us to think about the issue is to look to Christ. A practical implication of this is that we should spend less time analyzing ourselves and more time in praying and reading the Word. Now, there is certainly a time and a place for introspection, and perhaps some folk really must ask whether they have genuinely accepted Christ in faith. Still, the ultimate ground of assurance rests in Christ. Our assurance of salvation should never be dependent upon our own assessment of our status before God. Instead, we must turn to Christ and be found in Him and in Him alone.

KONY 2012: Yes or No?

KONY 2012

Bryan messaged me this week and pointed out that it seems that every time it’s my turn to post, “something big happens on the internet.”  Last month was Jeremy Lin and “Linsanity”, and this month, it seems we have a whole new subject matter regarding Joseph Kony.[1]  A Youtube video[2] was posted by the Invisible Children organization (IC), which “uses film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity.”[3] As of 3/10/2012, this film has received 67 million+ views already!

 

This campaign and film was meant to make “Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”[4]  I think this is a creative way to raise awareness and knowledge to the cause and to bring accountability to those responsible for the atrocities that have occurred.  At the same time, quite a few media sources[5] have also begun to level criticism and responses towards IC for this method and approach; we have those that support and those that are against this approach due to the tone and perhaps the specificity of the cause.  Ultimately, I think IC has done a great job and has creatively taken a step towards raising awareness for a subject often neglected. What leads me to write today though is NOT because I am trying to sway you towards supporting IC in its pursuit for KONY or not, but is a challenge towards the Christian in how they are processing IC’s campaign, and how we deal with such social justice causes in general.  The question, I want to ask is what is the reasons from which you desire to support or act with IC in its fight for Kony, and how have you reconciled this thought in your own theology and life in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

How does God’s justice, and God’s call come into play… especially for you, the Christ-follower in how you will approach and live out your life in such matters such as the poor, the oppressed, human trafficking, rape, abuse (of any sort), and justice for murderers/traffickers/tyrants/despots.  I took a class a few years ago at my seminary and my teacher shared about this dilemma that continues today regarding the Christian and how we deal with our culture and the social issues and problems that may come before us; there is a complicated interaction of both Christ & culture. Similarly, you could say that this question is more than important because how you deal with social justice (which is very trendy to our generation) has ties to the deepest roots of our personal understanding of Jesus Christ and the major motivator as to how we will live out our faith in this world.  So why do you do what you do?

My teacher from that class taught us about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a theologian, Pastor, teacher) and how he posed this question during the raise of Hitler in Germany regarding one’s faith and the call to action.  Bonhoeffer’s problems arose as he was made aware of the troubling actions of the German church and their being influenced by the Hitler supporters in the church. Hitler’s supporters begin to teach and lead the church in a way that was creating much blindness to the oppression of the Jews and was manipulating and misleading folks to believe what Hitler was doing was okay both in real life and in connection with the Bible.  It was a very scary and dark time as Bonhoeffer and many German Christians begin to address this danger and to raise awareness.  They were faced with a dilemma because how much involvement does the church have with the state, but what happens when the state starts to infringe upon the church’s ability to preach the Gospel faithfully?

Bonhoeffer then listed three possible ways that the church could respond in light of these circumstances. Let me summarize what Bonhoeffer came to realize for himself and how it relates to us… as Christians we have 3 choices: 1. We can simply protest and raise issue. 2. We can physically help those victims by offering support and care. 3. We can take the extreme step and engage in actions to stop the wrong.

As a well-known teacher/preacher/pastor/leader, Bonhoeffer mobilized many Christian supporters into the Confessing Church which stood as a contrast to the Hitler controlled state church; the Confessing Church would protest and continue to disobey Hitler’ oppression and control of the German church.  Bonhoeffer, due to his family connections into the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence), was aware of Hitler’s concentration camps and the murdering of Jews and other people. As a result, he got involved with those in the German group that failed in the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler (i.e. Valkyrie movie w/Tom Cruise).  Bonhoeffer was arrested due to his ties with this attempt and executed a few months before the end of World War Two. But what would lead a man of God to take social action and to even plot a murder to stop Hitler and to stick that spoke in the wheel?!

This is the paradox of Christians and our faith and is important because I see so many people jumping on the bandwagon for causes and yet have not fully developed a CONSISTENT understanding to their actions; they do NOT know how this fits in the big picture!  Bonhoeffer knew what he was doing and why he did it and it was revealed through his martyred life.  What would you do in case of Bonhoeffer? How far would you go?  What will you do with social justice issues like this of Kony and child soldiers?   This is where I believe that our understanding of action towards Kony may be flawed.  Though we are raising awareness and there may be persecution (the US and other countries have actively hunted him over the years to little success), there is very little that truly changes in our lives if we are unwilling to develop a foundation of thought as to our own motivations! By not doing so, we leave ourselves exposed to following causes for moments and not settling on a constant, faithful mindset to act and live out our faith.  This is where I believe the Gospel changes our perspective and how we must reconcile the relationship between Christ and our culture and how much we are to engage (if we are to engage at all), and what are the elements to which we do engage.

Let me share Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on this:

“If we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large –heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs not from fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren, or whose sake Christ suffered.”[6]

Bonhoeffer continues this thought by sharing this confidence in God’s future fulfilled promise through the return of Jesus that it:

“requires faith, and may God grant it to us daily. I don’t mean the faith that flees the world, but the faith that endures in the world and loves and remains true to the world in spite of all the hardships it brings us. Our marriage must be a ‘yes’ to God’s earth. It must strengthen our resolve to do and accomplish something on earth. I fear that Christians who venture to stand on earth on only one leg will stand in heaven on only one leg too.”[7]

Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s belief tied his Christian faith to a life that needed to be lived out in this world, and that as Christians, we are to act on our beliefs with a foundation in the Gospel and in the promise of His return.

Bonhoeffer hits on this main point which I want to end with today.

“’All things appear as in a distorted mirror… if they are not seen and recognized in God.’ So God is not merely a religious concept or religious reality. God is the one who invited reality, and reality can only be seen truly as it exists in God. Nothing that exists is outside his realm. So there are no ethics apart from doing God’s will, and God – indeed, Jesus Christ – is the nonnegotiable given in the equation of human ethics:  In Jesus Christ the reality of God has entered into the reality of this world. The place where the questions about the reality of God and about the reality of the world are answered at the same time is characterized solely by the name: Jesus Christ… All concepts of reality that ignore Jesus Christ are abstractions. As long as Christ and the world are conceived as two realms bumping against and repelling each other, we are left with only the following options. Giving up on reality as a whole, either we place ourselves in one of the two realms, wanting Christ without the world or the world without Christ – and in both cases we deceive ourselves…. There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is God’s reality revealed in Christ in the reality of the world. Partaking in Christ, we stand at the same time in the reality of God and in the reality of the world. The reality of Christ embraces the reality of the world itself. The world has no reality of its own independent of God’s revelation in Christ.”[8]

In order to affect change, don’t buy into the hype of one event.  Kony is one important and dark story that needs to be told, but never forget that there are millions of stories out there where there is pain and suffering. Child Soldiers are NOT just in Africa, but even consider Myanmar, who may have over 100,000 child soldiers within its borders (making it the largest concentration of child soldiers in a country in the world.[9]  There are so many different issues that lead to such forms of oppression such as poverty, ethnic wars, and drug trafficking.  By considering the millions of factors and reasons that are leading to such pain, it is quickly easy to be discouraged, and to ask the question of what’s the point!?  Is there any hope?  This is why one must start with God and a healthy understanding of the Gospel and how it applies into our lives and how we are to live things out.  If we are to simply face each circumstance, we are quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of needs, pain and suffering. It is only through Jesus Christ that we begin to see that there is hope because God never meant for this world to be this way; it is through Jesus Christ that God has inserted a hope and a promise of true justice in the future that will happen.

How will you face the next story of pain and suffering? What will you do to apply your understanding of the Gospel into affecting change in this world?  Will you see the big picture of what God is doing and see that ultimate hope through Jesus Christ?  In the end, I’m not writing against IC’s efforts with the KONY 2012 video. I am simply adding to your understanding the need to see the big picture in the Gospel.   May this post help to shape all your future endeavors of “social justice” as it helped Bonhoeffer to personally respond to Hitler in Germany.

Somebody call 9-1-1

Galatians 1:3-5

A few weeks ago, our young adult group started studying the book of Galatians. As we studied the introduction of Paul’s letter, I was reminded of my desperate need for Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches differs from the letters that he penned to the other churches he planted. He doesn’t open the letter with words of commendation. That is because the issue that has plagued the Galatians is a serious one. They had allowed themselves to be persuaded by false teachers to put aside the gospel that Paul had preached to them for another message. One that emphasized their own works.

Paul responds to this false teaching with the letter to the Galatians. And his response is rather stern. If we were to simplify his message in as few words as possible it might look something like this: “Christ alone plus nothing more”. As Paul opens his letter, he wastes no time reminding the Galatians of Christ’s all-sufficient death on the cross.

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

In these first few verses, the word “rescue” stands out. A rescue implies that there is something dangerous which someone needs to be delivered away from. That danger exists whether or not that person acknowledges their need to be rescued. The need is real.

A rescue is also much more than just a helping hand to assist someone from a sticky situation. This is not some sort of 50/50 deal that stipulates the need for someone to go a certain distance so that they can be carried the remainder of the way. The need is wholly and completely met by Christ.

According to the scriptures, we are the ones in need of rescue. He gave Himself for our sins (Gal. 1:4). Our sins which lead us to pride, lust, selfish ambition, idolatry, hate, and envy. Yet while we were still sinners God sent His son to die for us (Rom. 5:8). This rescue was not some sort of distant effort coordinated from afar. It was by God’s will and His plan that Christ came to live, to die, and to rise again for our sins. We are the object of this rescue. 

However even though I may have been rescued from sin, something inside me always gets caught in a cycle of trying to do things which at their roots are really just seeking to earn favor in the sight of others. If I have been rescued, I am no longer enslaved by the need for approval from others. The approval of man is of temporary value. Being rescued from sin I have the approval of God because of my faith in Christ and what He did for me. I need to stop relying on myself. I need to stop thinking that I need to do something. I desperately need Christ. Jesus Christ came to rescue you and I.

Realize the need, receive His grace through faith in Christ, remember that it is a rescue, and rely on Christ plus nothing more.

Though my sins once separated me from God, they have been paid for by the finished work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Through faith in Christ I have been rescued from being enslaved to the destructive nature of sin; this present evil age. That is good news. That is the gospel.

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21